More informed question about first kayak

-- Last Updated: Aug-01-14 8:11 PM EST --

So after reading the replies to my previous post (thanks everyone!), I realized that what I should be asking you experienced kayakers is not which of two predetermined kayaks should I buy, but rather, what kind of kayak should I be looking for? Here's what I believe to be the relevant information:

1. I prefer to buy used to get more bang for my buck
2. I'm female, 170#, 5'10 with a 33" inseam & size 10 shoes (so, long legs, big feet).
3. I would be paddling primarily on lakes (not the Great Lakes!) and slow-moving rivers and creeks in Ohio.
4. The kayak needs to have enough storage for an overnight camping trip (assuming minimalist/backpacker gear: hammock, tuna can stove, etc.)
5. I'd like something that I wouldn't outgrow quickly as my skills advance.
6. Weight isn't really an issue because I'm strong; also, I would be loading the kayak onto either my VW Bug or my husband's Civic.

What should I be looking for regarding type of kayak (touring? day touring?), length, width, etc., and what should I avoid (hybrid/crossover kayaks?) What else should I take into consideration?

Finally, is there a way to guesstimate with fair accuracy whether a kayak will be a good fit without actually sitting in it? I've seen some nice-looking kayaks on craigslist...3-3.5 hours (one way) from where I live. It would be good to have a way of figuring out whether or not the kayak would be a good fit before driving a very long way to look at it.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Lots of choices…

– Last Updated: Aug-01-14 9:39 PM EST –

You are the theoretical average paddler and almost every kayak will fit you except the "Big Boy or "small paddler" models. You are the rental outfitter's dream as they can put you in just about any rental kayak.
I'd say anything between 14.5' to 18' would carry your gear and around 23" wide. Look for two hatches and two bulkheads. You can always tighten the fit with foam and upgrade the seating in the future. A rudder on your first boat will make things easier and a brand name such as Wilderness or Current Designs will make resale easier.

It will not be your last boat but will work and give you an idea of what you really want so buy used.

You are about my size and I have been through many boats to find my perfect boat and then I had to go and buy it back after I had sold it.. ;-)

Edit: Buy a good paddle (light), it will stay with you on your quest.

Many choices
For your stated purposes I would look for something about 14’ length, and 22"-24" width. This would give you reasonable speed on the larger bodies of water (lakes) and still be short enough to maneuver on smaller creeks. Front and rear bulkheads / hatches for floatation and gear storage. At your height / weight you shouldn’t have any trouble fitting in most any boat. One thing to consider though, since you are long legged, is deck height/ cockpit combing height . With a shorter torso you might find a lower cockpit combing height to be better. I like for my navel to be about the height of the cockpit combing when seated. If the height of the combing is higher you may find you hit the sides when paddling. On the other hand if the deck height is too low, you may find you can not get a comfortable bend to your legs. If you can demo/rent or otherwise try a few different boats, you can pretty quickly find what feels most comfortable to you and use the specifications from these when considering other used boats. If at all possible paddle a boat before purchasing it.

You will never outgrow these
Current Designs Sirocco, or Gulfstream. They are the same boat, except; the Sirocco is polyethylene and the Gulfstream is composite. There are a lot of these boats around, so used shouldn’t be too hard to find, but a new Sirocco will not set you back that far either. They are great all around kayaks that will do it all.

One comment on fit
In general you have plenty of choices - as said above, you are close to the true “average paddler” size.

But on the sit-in-it question… do I understand correctly that you presently have no experience in how a sit inside kayak should fit?

If that is correct, you should really get to some place to try and demo boats, with a qualified person around, before you start making decisions on your own after a two hour drive or whatever. Most people, and often women for whatever reason, do not realize how tight a properly fitting kayak feels at first. They walk away from a boat because it feels too constrained that they would have found perfect after a few weeks of paddling or the first session of self-rescues.

You should find many choices, just best if you know when you are sitting in one of them.

first kayak
as I posted in

I bought for my first kayak a polyvalent type (Dagger charleston, it is out of production now). This means that it has a some rocker instead of a straight keel. It has a retractable skeg and with the skegg out it has a very good directional stability while with the skeg in, it can be used for fast maneuvering. It has also two watertight compartments (bow and stern) with very good hatches. I still love to use it as well on open sea as small rivers and shallow waters. Lateral stablity is another question and somewhat complex but in general the smaller the boat the less stable (lateral).

Developing skills
Developing skills usually means getting more comfortable with edging, leaning, bracing, and rolling. Doing that requires a boat that fits you and a cockpit that accepts a good skirt. Bulkheads will limit the amount of water you have to remove when you make a mistake, or are practicing rescues.

The touring/day touring/light touring/sea kayak names are mostly marketing and have no strict definitions.

Also very important is the cockpit length. My Dagger kayak has a cockpit length of 95cm while my smallest (a polyester) kayak has a cockpit length of 65cm. Getting in in both types of kayaks is very different, also for self rescue. When you want to kayak solo I would not recommend a small cockpit for a first kayak.